If the heart of man is, as Jeremiah wrote, “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked,” then we must vigorously guard against the most deceptive forms of sin. One of the most subtle and oftentimes seemingly implacable sins is spiritual pride and self-righteousness. Jonathan Edwards noted this when he wrote:
He that is under the prevalence of this distemper, is apt to think highly of his attainments in religion, as comparing himself with others. ‘Tis natural for him to fall into that thought of himself, that he is an eminent saint, that he is very high amongst the saints, and has distinguishably good and great experiences. That is the secret language of his heart, Luke 18:11, “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men.” And Isaiah 65:5, “I am holier than thou.” Hence such are apt to put themselves forward among God’s people, and as it were to take a high seat among them, as if there was no doubt of it but it belonged to them. They, as it were, naturally do that which Christ condemns (Luke 14:7, etc.), take the highest room. This they do, by being forward to take upon ’em the place and business of the chief: to guide, teach, direct and manage; they are confident that they are guides to the blind, a light of them which are in darkness, instructors of the foolish, teachers of babes (Romans 2:19–20). ‘Tis natural for them to take it for granted, that it belongs to them to do the part of dictators and masters in matters of religion; and so they implicitly affect to be called of men “Rabbi,” which is by interpretation “Master,” as the Pharisees did (Matthew 23:6–7), i.e. they are apt to expect that others should regard ’em, and yield to ’em, as masters, in matters of religion.
The power of the temptation of this paritcular sin is that it comes to us from the master of pride and self-righteousness–the devil. Edwards again noted:
The deceitfulness of the heart of man appears in no one thing so much, as this of spiritual pride and self righteousness. The subtlety of Satan appears in its height in his managing of persons with respect to this sin. And perhaps one reason may be, that here he has most experience: he knows the way of its coming in; he is acquainted with the secret springs of it; it was his own sin. Experience gives vast advantage in leading souls, either in good or evil.
We must be firmly convinced that our self-righteousness can only be dealt with by virtue of the righteousness and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is only by a continual casting of ourselves on Him and His finished work that we will be freed freed from this heart plague. Self-righteousness is taking upon ourselves the work that only Christ can accomplish. Edwards made this observation when he wrote:
What self-righteous persons take to themselves is that same work that Christ was engaged in when he was in his agony and bloody sweat and when he died on the cross, which was the greatest thing that ever the eyes of angels beheld. This as great as it is they imagine that they can do; the same that Christ accomplished by it. Their self-righteousness does, in effect, charge Christ’s offering up himself in these sufferings as the greatest instance of folly that ever men or angels saw, instead of being the most glorious display of divine wisdom and grace that ever was seen. Yea, self-righteousness makes all that Christ did through the whole course of his life, and all that he said and suffered for through that whole time, and his incarnation itself, and not only so, but all that God had been doing in the great dispensations of his providence from the beginning of the world to that time, as all nothing but a scene of the most wild, and extreme, and transcendent folly.